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Despite the pandemic seeming like a major setback for brick & mortar stores, the return to normal hasn’t made in-person shopping obsolete, it’s just changed to better suit the current environment. With 2023 looking to be the first year without pandemic restrictions, let’s see how physical storefronts are adapting to our new environment.
Availability & Convenience
While seeming like the one thing that makes online shopping easier than in-person shopping, there are some major conveniences that give an important advantage to brick & mortar stores over online shopping. Brick & mortar stores have adapted to the new commerce environment by incorporating elements from online retail, forming a new type of strategy called “phygital”.
Phygital is a new marketing strategy that seeks to combine the best parts of digital and physical shopping to enhance the overall experience. A great example of phygital is in-store pickup, where a product is purchased online beforehand and the customer goes to the store themselves to pick it up. This has the advantages of both the ease of purchasing something online and the ability for the customer to receive the product the same day they purchase it. Since the supply chain issues from the pandemic still have yet to be solved, leading to numerous delays and issues with shipping, the ability for customers to reliably know that the product they want is in stock and they can have it today is a huge advantage to physical stores.
Building Store Loyalty
An interesting trend of recent years has been online focused brands opening in-person retail locations. Amazon, for example, has started opening up physical locations such as Amazon 4-Star and Amazon Fresh. The reason for this is that online shopping doesn’t have as strong customer loyalty when compared to brick & mortar. This is for a variety of reasons: the ease of switching to a different online store, the lack of personalization with most online storefronts feeling “samey”, and the lack of customer experience that forms the connections between brands and the consumer. Many online stores have begun to open physical locations to help create brand awareness and loyalty amongst consumers.
The Irreplaceable In-Person Experience
Another reason that in-person shopping will remain is the exclusive benefits provided by shopping in-person. Mainly, the ability to directly feel products and the help provided by in-store employees.
The ability to directly touch products is a major advantage for in-person shopping. According to some studies, consumers are more likely to purchase something if they have the opportunity to hold it themselves. This is especially important for certain products such as clothing, as experiencing the look and feel of an article of clothing allows the consumer to better determine if they like it and are willing to make a purchase.
In addition to that, physical stores have an advantage that is near-impossible to replicate online, the ability to interact with employees to ask questions. While many online stores offer help through text chat, they can be unreliable for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there can be long waits between asking a question and receiving an answer, and sometimes you may not even be talking with a real person, instead conversing with a bot. In-person shopping has none of these downsides, as almost every brick & mortar store will have employees who can answer any questions you might have. Being able to converse with someone face-to-face will not only allow you to easily find the answers to your questions, but will also provide enjoyment to the customer from the connection they form with the salesperson.
In a post pandemic world, despite the popularity of online shopping, consumers are craving physical storefronts more and more. The key difference now is that brick & mortar stores can apply a “phygital” strategy of both incorporating lessons from online stores to enhance the in-person experience as well as providing experiences that are impossible to replicate online. Brick & mortar isn’t going away any time soon, it’s just adapting to our rapidly changing society.
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